Saturday, September 1, 2007

M. de Charlus and Ignatius J. Reilly

It occurs to me that Proust's Baron de Charlus — baroque, elusive, haughty, loony — is a likely ancestor of John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius J. Reilly, protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces. Here is M. de Charlus preparing for a duel (an imaginary duel, as it turns out):

"I think it'll be very beautiful," he said to us with sincerity, intoning each word. "To see Sarah Bernhardt in L'Aiglon, what is that? Excrement. Mounet-Sully in Oedipus? Excrement. It acquires at most a certain pallor of transfiguration when it takes place in the Arena in Nîmes. But what is it compared with that unprecedented thing, of seeing the actual descendant of the Connétable do battle?" At the mere thought of which, M. de Charlus, unable to contain his delight, began to perform contre-de-quartes reminiscent of Molière, leading us to move our beer glasses closer for safety, and to fear that the first clash of blades might wound the adversaries, the doctor, and the seconds. "What a tempting spectacle it would be for a painter! You who know M. Elstir," he said to me, "you should bring him along." I replied that he was not on the coast. M. de Charlus hinted that he might be sent a telegram. "Oh, I say that for his sake," he added, faced by my silence. "It's always interesting for a master — in my opinion, he is one — to capture such an example of ethnic reviviscence. There's perhaps only one a century."

Marcel Proust, Sodom and Gomorrah, translated by John Sturrock (New York: Penguin, 2002), 456

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[The Connétable de Guermantes is one of the Baron's ancestors. The contre-de-quarte is "a circular parrying movement of the sword." Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme features a fencing lesson. These details are drawn from the notes to the Penguin edition of the novel.]

comments: 3

Anonymous said...

I swear, I had the same thought! And the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons somehow reminds me of both characters. Mme Verdurin's? Worst. Salon. Ever.

Michael Leddy said...

I believe you, Stefan!

Unknown said...

I agree!